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The Transformation Of Ashley Judd From 22 To 54

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If American actor, political activist, and humanitarian Ashley Judd could be described in one word, it would be powerhouse. Of course she’s talented, persuasive, and empathetic, but no matter the project — whether it’s acting in a blockbuster movie, standing at the podium before a senate hearing, or traveling the world for a just cause — Judd goes full-force with everything she’s got.

Judd, who was born Ashley Tyler Ciminella, is half-sister to singer Wynonna Judd and daughter of Naomi Judd. She’s divorced (as of this writing) and has no children but that’s exactly as she’d always planned. In her 2011 memoir, “All That Is Bitter and Sweet,” Judd talked about knowing from age 18 her destiny was not to bear children. “I do not need to go making ‘my own’ babies when there are so many orphaned or abandoned children who need love, attention, time, and care,” Judd wrote in her book.

Since that epiphany, Judd managed to accomplish her goal while simultaneously maintaining a 30-year acting career, starring in such films as “Heat,” “Kiss the Girls,” and “Double Jeopardy.” And the Golden Globe-nominated actor didn’t have doors fly open just because she had a famous family. Judd has been open about her horrific experience with the “casting couch” and was one of the first to sue Harvey Weinstein for sexual misconduct. Despite the struggles, Judd perseveres. Read on for more of the stunning transformation of Ashley Judd from 22 to 54.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN’s National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

She left university just shy of graduating

When your mother and sister are singing on tour, it makes sense your home life would be somewhat unstable, but that doesn’t mean Ashley Judd was happy about going to 13 different schools before she was 18, as she explained in her memoir “All That is Bitter and Sweet.” So when she attended the University of Kentucky in 1986, at least she was finally able to live on her own terms. She majored in French and even studied abroad for a semester. Unfortunately, she left college before she had enough credits to graduate. 

Though she saw much success in Hollywood after leaving college, she couldn’t leave her degree unfinished. In 2007, The Berkshire Eagle reported that Judd had completed her degree. Then, in 2010, Judd graduated from Harvard with a Master’s in Public Administration and an emphasis on gender equality, as reported by The New York Times. But Judd didn’t stop there, and in August of 2016, Judd announced in a Facebook Live that she would be attending UC Berkeley to obtain a PhD.

In 2021, when Judd was inducted into the UK Hall of Distinguished Alumni, she spoke fondly about her memories of her time at UK and the impact a professor’s compliment had on her, saying, “It just helped my self-esteem as I was figuring out that I did have something to contribute and that I could learn and this was a space in which I did belong.”

The start of Ashley Judd’s her acting career

Ashley Judd’s first onscreen role was in 1991 in “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” She actually had two appearances as Ensign Robin Lefler. That same year she landed a regular spot on the TV series “Sisters,” starring Swoosie Kurtz and Sela Ward, appearing as rebellious Reed Halsey until the end of Season 4.

From the get-go, Judd wanted to make it clear her career was of her own doing. She told the Los Angeles Times in 1992, “The only way their career parlayed into my doing what they do is that they very forcefully and courageously pursued an outrageous dream.” The following year, Judd appeared in “Ruby in Paradise,” which Roger Ebert said was possibly the most romantic film he’d seen that year. Of Judd’s performance, the movie critic shared, “She is so good in this movie that her character stops being a performance and becomes someone you feel like you know.” 

Ebert was so impressed with her performance, he asked her where she learned to act like that. The actor said, “I’ve known from the time that I was about seven years old that I was meant to be an actress … All of my imaginary life and inner workings were geared toward it. I know how to figure out what a scene is about, what it means to me.” Ironically, Judd didn’t watch television growing up and they rarely went to the movies, she told Ebert.

Ashley Judd’s breakout roles

Ashley Judd didn’t seem to have any trouble jumping from the small screen of television to big screen movies. After her stint on “Sisters” ended in 1994, she did a handful of movies, including “A Time to Kill” and “The Locusts” before landing a coveted spot next to seasoned actor Morgan Freeman in psychological thriller “Kiss the Girls.”

When she spoke to Bobbie Wygant in 1997 when the film released, the reporter mused how she knew Ashley Judd was going to be a big star the first time they met in 1993, and she seemed quite pleased she was right. And when Judd spoke to Jimmy Carter about her role as Kate Mctiernan, a doctor who is kidnapped, escapes, then helps Morgan Freeman’s character find other kidnapped women, Carter asked if she was proud of her role. Judd replied that she was very proud, adding, “I get my satisfaction on a daily basis, when I lie in bed at night, I think about did I really give it my all.” Carter went on to ask Judd what was next for her, and reported that he heard she not only wanted to be a director but wanted to take more control of her life. It wasn’t clear if that reference was about her famous mother/sister singing duo, but Judd answered, “It’s not so much about taking control of one’s life as it is the ever-expanding sphere of interest.” 

And how true that philosophy became over the years for Ashley Judd.

Ashley Judd got married in 2001

When Ashley Judd hit the celebrity scene she was linked romantically to men like Michael Bolton, Matthew McConaughy, and Lyle Lovett. But it wasn’t a leading man or singer who ultimately won her heart and her hand. Judd, who’s star was rising even higher with films like “Double Jeopardy” and “Where the Heart Is,” was introduced to racing driver Dario Franchitti at “Beverly Hills 90210” star Jason Priestley’s wedding, according to Yahoo! Entertainment. The two got engaged not long after, and by 2001, the couple married in Franchitti’s homeland of Scotland — but not before Franchitti’s terrible racing accident in February 2000.

As noted by ABC News, the wedding, at the Scottish town of Durnoch, was rumored to be held in the same Skibo Castle that Madonna married Guy Ritchie in. It was also reported that Gwyneth Paltrow, Sandra Bullock, Edward Norton, Michael Douglas and his wife Catherine Zeta-Jones were among the 300 guests. Though they kept their wedding — and married life — as private as possible, Franchitti showed up on red carpets with Judd, and she could be seen waiting in the wings at Franchitt’s races.

Sadly, in 2013 the couple divorced just as privately as they had wed. But in 2014, Judd spoke to Ladies’ Home Journal (via SheKnows) about her marriage and her ex-husband. “He’ll always be my loved one,” the actor shared.

She became a Global Ambassador for YouthAIDS

After more than a decade as a successful actor, Ashley Judd took on what was probably her most important role as a global ambassador for YouthAIDS, “a global initiative that generates funding and awareness to help fight the spread of HIV/AIDS among the world’s youth.”

After having traveled extensively in Africa and Asia to raise awareness of HIV prevention, Judd spoke at the Senate Hearing on HIV Vaccine Research in 2005. She along with others testified about the global AIDS pandemic and the need for the development of an effective HIV vaccine. The actor and humanitarian showed the committee clips of her Season 1 episode of VH1 Presents called, “Tracking the Monster: Ashley Judd and India. Arie Confront AIDS in Africa,” in which Judd spoke in French to a group of young people in Madagascar about abstinence and the threat of HIV. Judd told the committee, “Never in my career have I had to set the stage for dramas as devastating and of such historic proportion and consequence as the HIV emergency that we now battle.”

After traveling to more than a dozen countries, Judd stood outside the United Nations and spoke to CNN about the causes she fights for including AIDS, human trafficking, sexual exploitation, and gender equality. CNN’s Richard Roth asked her what celebrities bring to causes and if that is what it takes to get attention on these important issues. Judd said she can only speak for herself, adding, “I just know what matters to me and I have built a life around service.”

She stayed at a treatment facility for mental health

Beautiful, talented, intelligent and giving, Ashley Judd appeared to be the most put-together woman in Hollywood. Not only was she a successful actor but she was giving back to the world in huge ways with her volunteer work. But somewhere inside, she was battling her own demons, pushing back pain and memories that were a result of a chaotic childhood, per a candid conversation Judd had with Glamour in 2006.

Judd had recently emerged from a 47-day stay in a treatment facility in Texas, where her sister, Wynonna, had been staying. It was a family visit there at the Shades of Hope Treatment Center that Ashley herself realized it was time to face her own past and finally acknowledge her emotions. She told the magazine, “I needed help. I was in so much pain.” She went on to explain that her addictions were not chemical; they were behavioral. Coping mechanisms she developed at a young age. Looking back, Judd said, “Gee, I wasn’t just alone a lot —I was really lonely. I was clinically depressed at the age of eight.”

During her time at the facility, she learned that ignoring how she was feeling wasn’t good for her mental health and that she needed to allow herself to feel things. When asked by the publication how she felt now, Judd replied, “It’s so simple, really: I was unhappy and now I’m happy.”

She shared about her abuse in her memoir

Ashley Judd’s time in a treatment facility was so impactful she included mention of it in the book synopsis for her 2011 memoir entitled, “All That Is Bitter and Sweet.” Though her book covers other aspects of her life, including her work as a humanitarian, some of what she shares is about her chaotic childhood of “abandonment and abuse,” as described in the Amazon blurb. According to an ABC News article, Judd writes about several men abusing her, including a family member. She discussed a traumatic event in which an old man molested her in a storeroom, saying the experience was made worse when she went to her family to report what had happened and they didn’t believe her.

Judd spoke about her memoir to CNN, who reported that Judd started a diary in 2004 about her experiences in life and her travels during her humanitarian work, and much of that appeared in the book as well. But as the interview went underway, Judd said she was uncomfortable talking about the trauma she wrote about and wanted to focus more on the important work she does. One of the reasons she shared her story, she told CNN, was to explain what led her to her work. Once the conversation was geared away from that, Judd spoke about what she gets out of going to other countries to help others. “I get to live my spiritual values and principles and faith. No one is disposable. Everyone matters.”

If you or someone you know may be the victim of child abuse, please contact the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-Child (1-800-422-4453) or contact their live chat services.

In 2012, she addressed criticism about her appearance

In 2012, Ashley Judd landed the role of a CIA agent in the TV series “Missing.” Judd did the usual round of interviews to promote the show, and at some point, rumors began to swirl that she’d had work done on her face, comments specifically focused on her face looking “puffy.”

In response to the rumors, Judd spoke to NBC Nightly News about the catch 22 that is a woman’s appearance and the idea that if you look different you must have had work done. However, if you look too good, you’ve also clearly had work done. “I think it’s the objectification of girls and women in this hyper-sexualization of our society that invites the criticism,” Judd told NBC.

She also penned a thoughtful “smack-down” for The Daily Beast calling the attack on her appearance misogynistic and asking the hard questions of how we change the narrative and the way we look at women. “I ask especially how we can leverage strong female-to-female alliances to confront and change that there is no winning here as women,” Judd wrote. She also explained the reason she might have looked different, sharing that she had been sick for quite a while, and after trying many things that didn’t work, she turned to steroids, which caused some swelling in her face.

Ashley Judd accused her sister of putting tracker on her car

As she indicated in her 2011 memoir, Ashley Judd felt abandoned by both her mother and her half-sister, Wynonna Judd. And in 2012, when Wynonna married drummer Cactus Moser, neither mom, Naomi, nor Ashley were in attendance. Wynonna told US Weekly she wasn’t even sure if they knew it had been her wedding day.

Then at the end of 2013, ABC News reported that Ashley Judd claimed her sister put a GPS tracking device on her car. According to a police report obtained by ABC that detailed the incident, the device was found by a mechanic, and Ashley told the police she believed it was placed there by her sister or that Wynonna had someone place it there. As if in one of the thrillers actor Ashley Judd appeared in, the police followed the trail of the device, first to a private investigator, then to Wynonna Judd, and finally to Wynonna’s ex-husband, Arch Kelley, who reportedly installed the device on Ashley’s car.

Kelley ultimately denied the allegation and the police marked the case inactive, per ABC. However, Wynonna eventually admitted to putting on the tracker, telling Taste of Country she wasn’t trying to track Ashley, but her own daughter, who was using the car.

Ashley Judd spoke out about Harvey Weinstein

One of the biggest catalysts for the #MeToo movement, especially in regards to Hollywood, was Ashley Judd coming forward with allegations against Harvey Weinstein. In January 2017, Judd spoke to a cheering crowd at the Women’s March on Washington, saying, “I have been zipping my smile, hoping you do not think I wanna unzip your jeans.” Who knew at that moment Judd would be naming names before year end. 

Like many others, Judd kept silent about the abuse at the hands of Weinstein but broke that silence when New York Times journalists Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey interviewed her and others about the horrific experiences they endured with Weinstein. Judd told The New York Times of what happened to her two decades before, “I said no, a lot of ways, a lot of times, and he always came back at me with some new ask. It was all this bargaining, this coercive bargaining.”

In 2018, an NPR article detailed just how courageous Judd’s decision was, especially after she wasn’t believed when she came forward as a child. Judd said, “The greatness of this moment is that finally the world was able to hear. I don’t give a s*** what it costs me. All I can do is the next good, right, honest thing and let go of the results.” And that good, honest thing inspired dozens of others to come forward as well, spurring Kantor and Twohey to develop a book, “She Said,” based on the article and the resulting claims that followed by dozens of Weinstein victims.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN’s National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

Ashley Judd appeared in two new series in 2017

As busy as Ashley Judd stays fighting the good fight, she still doesn’t let her fans down who want to see her on television and the big screen. But disappointing her viewers wasn’t the only reason the actor wanted to dive into some new roles. She told ET, “I have a really diverse life and I started to have a hankering to work.” In 2017, Judd had recurring roles on two TV series: “Twin Peaks” and “Berlin Station” and had a film release, “Trafficked,” in which she plays a sex trafficker, something Judd has fought against in her activism.

Judd appeared in four episodes of “Twin Peaks,” which is Season 3 to the original series that aired from 1990-1991. The spy drama series “Berlin Station,” aired for 3 seasons and featured Judd in two of them as station chief BB Yates aka “The Station Whisperer.” In a red carpet interview with Mingle Media at PaleyFest, Judd spoke about her new role, describing her character as strong, fearless, and a woman who doesn’t take anything from anyone. In response, the reporter gushed, “I watched the first episode of the season coming out and you definitely are a bada** and I love your character.”

Judd also told ET Online one of the things that attracted her to the series was executives expressing their want to have gender parity, hiring female directors, and having a diverse cast.

In 2021, Ashley Judd suffered an accident in the Congo

In February of 2021, Ashley Judd posted a dramatic photo on Instagram of herself being carried in a make-shift hammock hanging on a wood pole through the jungle. The caption starts, “Friends. Without my Congolese brothers and sisters, my internal bleeding would have likely killed me, and I would have lost my leg.”

This wasn’t the first time Judd had visited the Congo, and she actually lived for weeks in the rainforest to study the bonobo apes, as she explained to Kate Roberts on the podcast, “Sex, Body, and Soul.” According to Judd, she was hurrying to catch up with someone when she tripped over a fallen tree. She knew immediately, she’d had a bad break to her leg and called out for help. Judd shared that the pain was so horrible, she was at the point of screaming and writhing. Once out of the forest, Judd had to ride on the back of a motorcycle for five hours to get to the airfield. As she recovered, she posted more on Instagram, praising, naming, and thanking the people who helped her after the accident, including a video of the nurses at the hospital in Johannesburg, South Africa that attended to her.

Despite the harrowing experience she went through, Judd has healed to the point that even surprised her doctors and now the actor has no qualms about going back to the Congo. In fact, she told Roberts, “I’m going right back to the Congo. It’s where I belong.”

In 2022, Ashley Judd lost her mother

On April 30, 2022, Ashley Judd posted on her Instagram, “Today we sisters experienced a tragedy. We lost our beautiful mother to the disease of mental illness. We are shattered.” Less than two weeks later, Ashley would share with the world (via Good Morning America) that her mother, music superstar Naomi Judd, died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. 

Sadly, Ashley decided to speak on behalf of the family, telling Diane Sawyer that they wanted to share the truth of what happened before others did it in a way they couldn’t control. With unsteady words, Ashley explained how her mother’s suffering was too great for her to hang on any longer. Speaking of Naomi’s fans, Ashley said, “The regard in which they held her couldn’t penetrate into her heart. And the lie that the disease told her was so convincing.” Fighting back tears Ashley shared the manner in which Naomi took her life, sharing it was a firearm. Then she added the plea, “My mother is entitled to her dignity and her privacy.”

On May 1, when Naomi Judd was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame (via Associated Press), Ashley gave a tearful thank you on her behalf. “My mama loved you so much. And she appreciated your love for her. And I’m sorry she couldn’t hang on until today.” Then, after half-sister Wynonna added some levity, saying “I didn’t prepare anything tonight because I knew mom would probably talk the most,” she admitted it was strange to feel both broken and blessed at the same time.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ at​ 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.




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